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Review: 'Shining' sequel 'Doctor Sleep' wide awake with thrills

Ewan McGregor stars in follow-up film that stands on its own, for the most part

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Heeeeeere's... Danny!

That's Danny Torrance, the young boy with psychic powers from "The Shining," who was last seen escaping the Overlook Hotel while his father froze to death in the bitter cold Rocky Mountain winter following a work trip gone, well, sideways is one way to put it.   

That will leave some heavy psychological scars, and those scars are opened up in "Doctor Sleep," a fresh, smart and deeply atmospheric revisiting of a classic that carves its own world with new characters and bold storytelling.

Ewan McGregor in "Doctor Sleep."

Only when it gets caught up in its predecessor's mythology during the home stretch does it veer off course. But for fall thrills, "Doctor Sleep" has the prescription, and it's a head-scratcher why it wasn't released in time for Halloween.    

Dan Torrance, now grown up (he's dropped the "Danny") and played by Ewan McGregor, is a mess of drunken benders, bar fights and one night stands. He's a man on the run from his father, his past, his demons, himself. 

In an attempt to escape his life he boards a bus and lands in a small East Coast town where he befriends Billy (Cliff Curtis), who becomes his AA sponsor and finds him a job working in hospice care. He's got no problem taking the job. "We're all dying. The world is one big hospice with fresh air," Dan proclaims. 

Eight years later, he's cleaned up, sober and responsible. He's even got his psychic powers under control, though one day he gets a mental knock at his door from Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a teenager who also has the gift of "the shining." They befriend each other through the power of their minds. 

Abra, it turns out, is in danger: her gift is so powerful that she's targeted by a roving cult of soul vampires known as the True Knot, who dress like attendees of the first few Lollapalooza festivals and feed off the spirits of special and gifted children. 

They're led by Rose the Hat (an excellent Rebecca Ferguson), who keeps the kids' "steam" locked in metal thermos containers inside her trailer. When it's time to feed, she and her posse unlock the containers and breathe in the powers contained within like they're inhaling smoke during a clam bake.

Given the components at play — fantasy elements, telekinesis, reaper hippies — this could all turn very silly, very quickly. 

But writer-director Mike Flanagan, who also helmed the 2017 Stephen King adaptation "Gerald's Game," avoids careening off a cliff by creating a rich, absorbing mood that pays homage to the look and feel of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 original while forging a new path forward. (The film is based on, but veers from, Stephen King's 2013 novel.) 

"Doctor Sleep" unfolds at a methodical, nuanced pace, incorporating Kubrick-like slow fades in between scenes and a washed-out color palate. The cast — Carl Lumbly is solid in the Scatman Crothers' role, and Zahn McClarnon and Emily Alyn Lind leave lasting impressions as members of the True Knot gang — steps up and keeps the focus on the story being told, not the original film.

"Doctor Sleep" is a movie about the debts we owe to ourselves and what we do when it's time to pay up, and Flanagan works through a fair amount of those issues in terms of acknowledging "The Shining." He re-stages some of its most iconic moments, bringing back lookalikes of some key cast members. 

But "Doctor Sleep" does just fine without these moments, like a band doing a deep dive on its new material and finding its groove. An itch to play a few too many of the greatest hits softens the impact of the ride. But make no mistake: "Doctor Sleep" shines.

'Doctor Sleep'


Rated R: for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use

Running time: 151 minutes